Women’s Editors Talk Strategy

Changing demos have magazines scrambling to keep up

It may be the end for men, as The Atlantic and others have proclaimed. But the rise of women, along with the splintering of media, declining newsstand sales, and fickle consumers, has left traditional women’s magazines scrambling to keep up.

Good Housekeeping, for one, has modernized by focusing less on cleaning tips and more on what its readers are interested in, said its editor Rosemary Ellis, speaking on a 2011 American Magazine Conference panel moderated by Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko. “The last thing they want to do is declutter all day,” she said.

She and fellow panelists also talked about low-cost competition and the opportunities presented by tablets and social media to connect with readers.

“We’re fighting with content farms and their need to put out just stuff,” lamented Sally Lee, editor of Ladies’ Home Journal.

There’s been a rush by magazines to try to publish on all possible platforms, especially as tablets and e-readers emerge as a way to sell magazine content. But as panelists said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Essence Communications president Michelle Ebanks said women of color are heavy Facebook and Twitter users, but Ellis said that her readers “are not madly twittering.” On the other hand, Ellis said, she sees opportunity for her brand on the iPad, where Good Housekeeping has found that vertical apps based on its cookbooks have sold well.

But, with magazines still making most of their money in print, it’s not easy being an editor these days, especially with newsstand sales soft and the life cycle of a celebrity shorter than ever, which makes picking a cover subject trickier. 

“I love celebrities—so easy to work with, so inexpensive, so easy to shoot,” Lee said with mock sincerity. “It’s not the greatest way to sell a cover. But they do sell.”